Equanimeous St. Brown is set for a breakout season.
The 2019 NFL Draft came and went, shockingly enough, without the Green Bay Packers selecting a single wide receiver. The position clearly could have used an infusion of talent this offseason, but the only somewhat significant addition has been Devin Funchess.
So what now? The question is nuanced, and one should consider the personnel groupings that Matt LaFleur will run as well as the potential for growth from players such as Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard. But the thing that should perhaps excite Packers fans the most is the potential for a big year from Equanimeous St. Brown.
St. Brown missed his entire second season after being put on Injured Reserve due to an ankle injury. Here’s why Packers fans should be looking forward to seeing #19 this year.
The burner on the Packers’ roster is generally understood to be Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But St. Brown is a downfield threat in his own right with outstanding speed.
St. Brown ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That’s in the 64th percentile among wide receivers, and faster than anybody else on the Packers outside of Valdes-Scantling. And he’s used that speed to great effect in his career, averaging more than 15 yards per catch in his junior year of college, senior year of college, and rookie NFL season.
Standing nearly six feet and five inches tall, St. Brown’s long legs enable him to build up significant speed in the open field. He’s a long strider who performs best separating down the field, rather than in short spaces like a Randall Cobb. But he still has sufficient start-stop ability to be effective on double moves, and he also has the wheels to separate after the catch.
Of course, pure speed can only get you so far. Receivers can only effectively employ their speed when paired with other, more nuanced skills. Chief among these is body control and ball-tracking. Packers speedsters such as Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis, and even Valdes-Scantling have struggled to master these finer details.
St. Brown, inexperienced as he is, is further along than any of those players. He is nowhere near the level that Jordy Nelson was in his prime, but he displays a similar innate understanding of how to shield defenders from the ball, create space for himself between the defender and the sideline, track the flight of the ball as it comes out of the air, and subtly maneuver his body to make receptions.
This was most apparent in the NFL on his clutch, back-shoulder catch against the 49ers in 2018.
Catch Radius and Contested Catch Ability
Being six-foot-five is only useful as a receiver if you can use that length to box out and sky over shorter cornerbacks, even when you are well-covered. St. Brown puts his long arms and frame to good use in the red zone and in other contested catch opportunities. He’s no Davante Adams, but St. Brown can certainly surpass Jimmy Graham’s 2019 performance in those situations, which would be a welcome boon for Aaron Rodgers.
Perhaps the most important thing for a young Packers receiver, of course, is gaining Rodgers’ trust. Though he’s entering his third season, St. Brown played just 33 percent of offensive snaps as a rookie and missed all of last season. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have a significant impact on training camp this year (to say nothing of the regular season). That may make it challenging for St. Brown to vault ahead of incumbents such as Lazard, Valdes-Scantling, and even Jake Kumerow, plus veteran Funchess.
But regardless of where his season begins, St. Brown has all the tools needed to establish himself as the Packers’ second receiver behind Adams by the end of the year. Brian Gutekunst will be hoping a third-year jump from his 2018 draft selection will make fans forget about his largely inactive offseason at receiver this year.